You know how in The Shawshank Redemption Andy Dufresne casually mentions Zihuatanejo to Red, while they fantasize about life outside of prison and then Red’s able to recall it at a crucial moment in the film? Well…
From kindergarten to second grade I had an incredibly kind teacher who did so much more for me than any teacher since then. Mrs. Monette Davis-Gray advocated for me, a precocious little kid who didn’t know what precocious was. She taught my parents to be my advocates, quietly explaining the American school system and encouraging them to ask for the resources that I needed. She went out of her way to make me feel special and keep me engaged, rewarding me with Toys R Us shopping sprees when I earned top marks in state exams. She came to my birthday parties and first communion. She came to our home for dinner. But, most importantly, she nurtured my curiosity and unknowingly exposed me to a world beyond Huntington Park.
Mrs. Davis-Gray agreed to be my pen pal during school breaks because she knew it would make great writing practice. We continued writing to each other even after she left my school for one closer to her home in Chino. In one letter, she wrote about a trip she made to Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Huatulco. I don’t remember any of the details from this or any of her other letters but I always remembered Huatulco, just like Red remembered Zihuatanejo. Huatulco. It even sounded pretty.
As things tend to happen, Mrs. Davis-Gray and I lost touch somewhere in the early ‘90s. During a networking event in 2006, I connected with someone who knew her and learned that Mrs. Davis-Gray passed away years before. I wept at the realization that I would never get to thank her for everything she did or tell her about my accomplishments.
Two years ago, I finally made it to Huatulco – the final leg of a two-week family trip through Central Mexico and Oaxaca. And, as I caught my first glimpse of this largely unspoiled paradise, I thought of Mrs. Davis-Gray and sent heartfelt thanks towards the ocean for, surely, she had swum in those waters all those years ago.